Tag Archives: garden

Day Trip from Rome: Garden of Ninfa

19 Mar

Spring is in the air and that means the Garden of Ninfa, which has been called the most romantic garden in the world, will soon be open for its limited 2017 season. Ninfa is the Italian word for nymph. It is an apt name for this sylvan place that time forgot, with its flowers, trees, and gurgling streams, and its ruins covered in vines.


Located near Cisterna Latina 75 km (46 miles) southeast of Rome, Ninfa has a long and colorful history. A thousand years ago, it was a small town by a flowing stream, home to a temple dedicated to the water nymphs from whence it got its name. By 1100 it had become an important and wealthy place next to the only north-south road that was passable when the Appia Antica was flooded.

  
Pope Alexander III was crowned there in 1159, but the town’s honor and glory would not last long; the Pope’s enemy the Emperor Barbarossa sacked the town. It eventually passed into the hands of the Caetani family, though it suffered a long and steady decline starting in the 1300s. During subsequent centuries, nature took its course, engulfing the abandoned medieval town, which faded from sight.


But not from memory. In the early 1920s, Gelasio Caetani decided to reclaim the swampy land via a custom-built drainage and irrigation system, and establish a garden amid the ruined town with the help of his English-born mother and American-born sister-in-law. Gelasio’s’ niece Leilia Caetani and husband Hubert Howard continued the family’s work. They imported plants from all over the world; the 8-hectacre (20-acre) site is home to more than 1,000 plant species, including dozens of roses, clematis, climbing hydrangea, water irises, ornamental cherry trees, cypress, magnolias, oaks, and poplars, among many others.

 
  

Today, a foundation maintains the garden, which is only open on certain dates and is accessible only via a guided tour. In 2017, visiting season kicks off on April 1. The majority of open days are in the spring, though the season runs through November 5. Check online for dates and to buy tickets–and if you are going to go, get there early. If you have a few minutes before your tour starts (or after it ends), you can cross the road and visit the Horti Nympharum, a classic citrus garden across the lane complete with fountain, a family of swans, and castle ruins to wander through. There is a separate entry fee for that garden, but it is worth the price.

  
Finally, if you are making a day of it, head up to the walled hill town of Sermoneta for lunch; the town itself is charming, and the views of the valley from above are gorgeous.

  
  

View of Garden of Ninfa from above

Cypress Knees

14 Dec

I’d heard of a bee’s knees, but not a tree’s knees. Turns out cypress trees have knees, as we discovered when walking through the gardens at Historic London Town last weekend. We rounded a corner and stumbled upon an eerie landscape: a tall Bald Cypress tree surrounded by what looked like little stumps or treelets poking up from a blanket of leaves.  It was almost as if we had been transported to the Island of Misfit Trees.

Turns out these little* woody projections are called cypress knees, and they are a bit of a mystery. The knees grow vertically from the tree’s roots, but no one quite agrees on what function they serve. Normally, they are found in swampy areas. This Bald Cypress and its knees were in Historic London Town’s Bog Garden–a very moist area, but not one that was under water (or at least not when we were there).  One theory is that the knees may help get oxygen to the tree’s roots, especially in the case of trees that are growing in several feet of water. But scientists who tested this theory found that the knees aren’t very good conveyors of oxygen, as one might expect from what is essentially a very woody stump. Another theory is that the knees provide the tree with stability. But no one really knows for sure; there is another school of thought suggesting that perhaps these knees serve no purpose at all…. Except to keep us wondering.


*These knees are still relatively little — but they can actually get quite tall.